Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
Those of you who read this blog know that I tend to get pretty juiced when things are going well and take the bad stuff better than a lot of people who get frustrated by the Twins' shortcomings, real or imagined.
Right now, though, it's time to take a stand.
It's time to blow up this thing and build a better ball club.
Monday night's 20-6 embarrassment may have been the loudest scream for help, but if you take a step back and look soberly at what has become of this team -- it's clear that the Twins simply aren't constructed to compete at the highest level. There are too many flaws in the players you want to rely on and too many holes being plugged by guys who are either maddeningly inconsistent or frequently overmatched.
The Twins have more in common with the Orioles and Dodgers than with the teams with which you'd like to compare them. In a stronger division, they'd be burnt toast.
If names were matched up with flaws right now, this post would be only that -- names and flaws. Delmon, his two home runs and his subpar defense. Mauer, his health and his inconsistency. Nishioka, his offense and his defense. You could do that cadence for most of the roster -- some underachieving, some overmatched.
Really, it's a conclusion that I suppose I wanted to defer. Kind of like waiting until the tooth hurts really, really badly before calling the dentist.
But any glimmer of hope feels like it would be a false positive, and counterproductive to the team's long-term health. Sweep Oakland this weekend? Maybe ... but so what?
Seven games out feels like 27 right now, and it's not at all fun to say that.
It wasn't only Monday night. In fact, it was probably the wasted weekend against Detroit that speaks more loudly to what's going on. The Tigers are constructed to hold on to the division lead now and have a shot in the postseason because they have a pitcher, Justin Verlander, who matches up favorably with just about any opponent. The Twins' rotation can match up favorably too -- with an opponent's No. 3 starter. The Tigers have young players who regularly make significant contributions. Twins fans have tried to get excited about a leadoff hitter with a .287 on-base percentage and an imported shortstop who can't possibly be as flawed as this season would suggest.
The pathetic state of the pitching staff right now is forcing Gardy to carry 13 pitchers, which meant that he had only one real substitute -- catcher Drew Butera -- on a 100-degree night when his team was getting creamed. Was Jim Thome coming up to hit? Was Ben Revere going to come off the bench when he and his 2-for-31 slump desperately needed (at least) a night off? The starters, except for Delmon, stayed on the field for the entire 205 minutes of self-imposed hell. Great start to the road trip, huh?
Michael Cuddyer's inning on the mound, in addition to giving us something to joke about, was a smoke bomb thrown off to the side to distract us from the wretchedness that preceded it: Nick Blackburn and Jose Mijares combining with their lousy defense to let in 14 runs in the first four innings; Mauer and Cuddyer hitting dueling double-play grounders in the third when the Twins could have given the appearance of getting back into the game.
There are any number of directions in which the Twins could go now. Do they find takers by Sunday's trading deadline who are needy enough for an outfielder or a pitcher that they would pay above market value? Do they keep the crew together and be aggressive in the winter trade and free-agent markets? Do they try to convince us that bad health was the biggest problem this season and that a fully recovered 2012 roster is the key to being more competitive?
All three approaches will make some people happy and outrage others.
I'd also suggest that you not buy any silliness about how real fans stick with the team and don't complain. You are sticking with your team by expecting it to do something. Demanding a better bullpen ... and outfield ... and starting rotation ... and more power ... and fewer Triple-A players in major league uniforms is your right -- and even your obligation.
The best way for Twins fans to stick with their team is by accepting that 2011 is pretty much cooked and it's time to reshape the roster to be stronger in 2012 and beyond.
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